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Group eyes ‘Fort Dalles Fourth’ for 2014 holiday

People in The Dalles looking for a little Independence Day excitement in recent years have become accustomed to traveling elsewhere to get it, but that could change beginning in 2014.

A volunteer group is forming here to plan a Fort Dalles Fourth starting in 2014 that could include a parade, festival area family fun and a fireworks display over the river. They’ll be holding a meeting later this month and are looking for more volunteers to join in the effort.

“Ideally, I’d like to see 50 people there,” said Mel Kendall, a community organizer who serves as the designated event planner for the effort. Anyone interested in volunteering is invited to email Kendall at or find “Fort Dalles Fourth” on Facebook, which had already garnered 213 “likes” since it was established July 2.

The idea got started on Facebook a few weeks ago when The Dalles native Doug Kirchhofer expressed nostalgia for years past when the Jaycees organized a fireworks display over the river. Kirchhofer offered to coordinate an effort to develop a public-private-civic partnership to revive the city’s fireworks display.

“It’s not only quiet, it’s just a ghost town on the Fourth,” Kirchhofer said. “It felt soulless. This is a community-building day — especially for smaller, older communities.”

Kirchhofer engaged the help of The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I wanted to have community support,” Kirchhofer said. “We’re trying to get a structure of support so that a lot of people can do just a little bit.”

The idea is that key activities will take place at Lewis and Clark Festival Park on First Street, not far from the dock area, where fireworks can be set off, possibly from a barge.

“We’ve talked about all kinds of ideas, all over the spectrum,” said Lisa Farquharson, Chamber chief executive.

The idea is to bring together a variety of vendors and some family-friendly activities.

“We’re thinking back to the old-fashioned community gatherings to celebrate the Fourth,” Farquharson said — a cherry-spitting contest, sack races, eating competitions and more. They’ll also plan to bring in local performers for the day. Brewer’s Grade, for example, has already expressed an interest. “We talked about maybe using a local nonprofit to organize some of the things.” She thought a veterans’ group might be a logical partnership, since the event celebrates the birth of the nation.

Group members say they have already enlisted interest from the National Guard and Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue.

“Maybe this could be a salute to public service,” Kirchhofer said.

The group has talked about making the Fourth of July the official kickoff to July’s big festival event, Fort Dalles Days, noted Cal McDermid of the Chamber. Fort Dalles Days starts the weekend after the Fourth and continues through the week, culminating in the Fort Dalles Days Parade and the Fort Dalles Rodeo.

Despite the already heavy festival orientation of July in The Dalles, Farquarson felt an Independence Day celebration would be a good addition to the mix.

“The Fourth of July is a different crowd than Jammin’ July and Fort Dalles Days,” she said.

Janet Rockwell, another event volunteer, noted that families might welcome another activity.

“During the summer, especially with the day stuff, families are looking for things where kids can be active — especially if they are free or low-cost,” Rockwell said.

Nostalgia for the days when The Dalles had big Independence Day celebrations is driving much of the interest in the event, Kirchhofer noted. He hopes that nostalgia will translate into participation.

“We can’t have spectators if we want to make it happen,” he said. “There needs to be a willingness to contribute to the community as a community.”

The group already has a commitment from Zambelli Fireworks, “one of the oldest and most accomplished pyrotechnic companies in the nation,” Kirchhofer noted.

Zambelli plans to examine the site and provide information about what type of display would work best here and the cost.

Online:, “Fort Dalles Fourth”


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